Shamanism and insanity
This is a personal story that I've initially written for my blog. Although in part it's not easy to share, I thought that some people on here might relate. Just curious. If you actually relate enough to read the whole thing, would be great to hear back.
I’ve had a bunch of people telling me I’m a “shaman” lately. While this has certainly tickled my ego, as the term seems to at least carry the implication of being somehow special – I’ve started reflecting on all these things and what they mean.
I’ve never interpreted my visions and encounters with what I’d call “presences” as contact with the spirit world. At first I interpreted it as – ashamed to say – but talking to God, because I was raised Catholic and when I sensed a warm, loving light by my bedside as a child (probably around 2nd or 3rd grade), well, that was my idea of what that must be.
Sometimes (still in childhood) I would sense more than one such “visitor”, and I would also have an intuitive “telepathic” (now I’d say, empathic) language with them – I’d “feel” them, and I knew they felt me. Sometimes I felt that these smaller lights came to me in a way to receive – again, I had no word for that, just instinct – some kind of loving energy that I could easily telepath them. I would sense then that somehow what was supposed to happen had happened, and they would leave.
I had no interpretation or name for this.
And I didn’t tell anyone – it didn’t occur to me (still wonder why; somehow I knew that this was “unmentionable”). It didn’t really upset or surprise or puzzle me either, though. It seemed natural.
When it really came on hard was during adolescence. The visions and sensations got far more complex and intense, and often they would involve the feeling of energy streams (what I then felt as a kind of “electricity” and “light”) in my body “lighting up”, transforming, activating; sometimes I’d feel like a light bulb that was going to explode as the voltage on it was just too high. The range of “visitors” also expanded; some were benevolent and brought ecstatic visions and what felt like insight and peace; others were dark or felt like pure evil, and some were trying to “pull me out of my body”, so to speak. I resisted, feeling like I’m fighting for my life. (As I was afraid that I’d leave and not find the way back.)
This went on for years with depth, richness, intensity, and also with my mental health deteriorating throughout my adolescence – now so many years after the fact I can see that experiencing all this, having no words for it, not mentioning it to anyone, and “playing normal”, playing the games of daily life while splitting that sphere of my experience off completely – as if into a separate compartment of my mind – could have easily driven a person crazy, or at least distraught and depressed, as it did with me. Being from an immigrant family, bisexual and with heavy gender dysphoria (feeling that my body was developing into the wrong sex), as well as being (academically) gifted hence not really on the same wavelength with my peers didn’t help either.
But retrospectively I judge that all these things were perhaps easier to deal with than being assaulted and cradled (in alternation) by the “spirit world” on a near-daily basis.
All that was in the pre-internet era; I was trying to find information on what was going on with me, but all I found was information on schizophrenia. That didn’t fully fit though, and wasn’t encouraging either. At some point I bumped into an article on shamanism and it resonated. But that’s all. Maybe the only positive side-effect of this was that I ended up reading the major scriptures of most world religions; and any writing by mystics that I could get hold of in libraries and budding websites.
What saved my sanity was probably a short book on … I don’t even remember the details, but I think it was Zen meditation. Some Buddhist meditation manual. Which stated that if you meditate long enough, “things” (of the kind I was more than familiar with) will appear to you; and it instructed the meditator to pay no particular heed to whatever arises (no matter whether enticing or terrifying) but to just persist in cultivating a calm and settled observer state. I did that and it helped; I believe it saved my sanity over the years.
The other breakthrough moment I remember – after which I believe things got less intense and more manageable – was when in one of the evil-presence-pulling-me-out-of-my-body episodes I was so exasperated and by now worn down by all this nonsense that I “said” (telepathed / empathed) to it something along the lines of “I don’t care; I don’t even care to be afraid of you anymore, if you take me out of here and kill me, I still won’t bother to be afraid anymore”. Somehow that managed to transform the “evil” energy into a “light” benevolent one, after a major energy hurricane though that pulled me in all directions. Since that moment, these episodes got less frequent and intense.
I could probably tell dozens of such stories. I would guess that I had hundreds (thousands?) of these types of episodes, with “energies” of various flavours, colours, looks, feels, with endless types of transformations felt in my energy body (again, some ecstatic some … gruesome), with every type of communication and relation to whatever-it-was, and of course with various cryptic visions (not hallucinations though thankfully; just very strong and powerful inner-eye visions).
As a teen (and into my twenties), I didn’t accept that with the peaceful naturalness of my child self. I was puzzled, freaked out, in part terrified of the darkness, in part bewildered – by the positive visions, as they resembled things I’d read on in religious and mystical literature. However, I didn’t believe myself to be a mystic or a person of extraordinary virtue or power. In fact, I could barely manage to hold myself together and play sane.
It cost me a lot.
After stabilising and calming down my contacts with this realm somewhat in my twenties (again, crediting Buddhist meditation, particularly Vipassana and every type of mindfulness practice), I thought I’m over it. But I wasn’t OK internally. I was still gifted, imaginative, hungry for life, I got academic stipends, travelled. But over time a nagging feeling of inner isolation deepened, until in my late twenties and early thirties it reached profound pain and depression again. It was different from my teen depression – less chaotic, but more poignant.
At that point, I had spent perhaps almost a decade in personal development, in the sense of meditating, reading tons of psychology books, books on world religions and indigenous traditions to some degree, practiced bodywork and somatic healing techniques, been in (fairly useless) therapy also.
I believe I was less dissociated (cut off from my own body and emotions) than in my teen years. That’s perhaps why now I felt less chaos and more – simple, direct, near-physical – pain, desperation, hopelessness. I didn’t try to kill myself, but I frequently hit the point of “Fuck this all I’d rather not be here”. People who knew closely me were appalled how I could persist on a constant emotional rollercoaster, with the major part of it being dark and deep and distraught.
Not to mention, my personal relationships were a mess. I felt I couldn’t get my life path or even basic social interactions and material needs together in any way, everything slipping out of my hands again and again despite me being a healthy, intelligent, capable person.
I spare you the details, but at one point I bumped into someone who told me I’m an empath – in the quasi-psychic sense of literally feeling other people’s emotional and bodily states, rather than just imagining and empathising – and insisted on that. I thought that’s weird and ridiculous, but I researched it. I was desperate for anything that might help at that point. I learnt some basic energy work techniques, like sending back energies and clearing my field. It helped somewhat.
But I still treated that as a kind of visualisation game that’s based on my imagination helping me calm down, or something like that.
Later that year I randomly bumped into someone who aspires to being a professional energy healer. Seeing my state that person offered to give me a bunch of sessions. After I’d known them long enough to trust them, I accepted. It helped.
Additionally, it turned out that I could feel everything that person was doing (e.g. I’d know when they lost concentration and got tired even when they weren’t touching me and my eyes were closed). It also turned out that – when I offered at least a massage in return – I sensed and shifted things that this other person found unusual. They finally convinced me that I perceive things that most people don’t, and that this is perception, not imagination.
It took me a long, long time to come to grips with the idea that not everyone has these energy-related sensations all the time. And that these are genuine sensations, referring to real things.
Again, following my psychologist and psychology books, I’d assumed that it was just a metaphoric / symbolic representation of my thoughts. Although admittedly, it felt like a huge relief to just accept this as a form of perception. Because that’s what I now believe it is, after having tested it again and again – a mode intuitive perception.
That wasn’t all though. I’m still in the process of testing the accuracy of all this, and testing in how far what I do with energy affects not only myself, but the people I’m in contact with.
Working with this aspect of myself and my perception, and – to some degree – accepting it as real and reliable, and talking about genuinely existing aspects of the world – has helped me. To feel more balanced, sane, to regain some of my feeling of vitality and self – possibly my soul. My episodes of depression and darkness have been shorter since, and I’m not scared of nor particularly distraught by them anymore (although certainly crazy shit happens) – although that perhaps sounds odd, but in some sense I trust life now.
Since I’ve started “coming out” with this aspect of myself more, opening up with it to people, I’ve been baffled on a new level. I do think thinking of all this in terms of a shamanic “coming of age” or initiation is a more helpful model (for me personally) than anything I’ve seen that Western psychology has to offer at this point.
Treating what I see as a form of reality and learning to interact with it has taken off much more suffering than spending years psychoanalysing myself on where all these weird “symbols” and “metaphors” come from – having seriously no obvious basis in my personal life story. And having the feel, to be honest, of something that is at least in part distinct from me and my psyche.
Having had no guide in this certainly made my coming of age (my teens and twens) deeply painful and bewildering (to say the least). And made my start into life difficult, full of chaos, without having a firm basis in myself.
On the upside, I have perhaps learnt to rely on inner guiding lights – having had no choice. Learning that I’m not alone even when I am.
All this was and is difficult, and I know many people go through this journey in an even more painful manner (my environment was largely peaceful and supportive and sane). I don’t know if that was all – maybe much more is coming – but I credit some form of God or higher force for getting me through this in the first place. That’s the other lesson I’ve learnt, perhaps – that there are things I can’t deal with, but they can still be dealt with by the life and intelligence that I’ve sensed in everything ever since I was a child.
Being an empath or clairsentient or shaman or whatever you want to call it also means that I – almost constantly – sense the suffering and emotional/bodily experiences of other people coursing through my own body (on the upside, I also often sense their exhilaration, love and power and feel I can learn from that experience). That’s difficult and something I am still learning to deal with, ever since I’ve understood that’s what it is (rather than random noise or only my own psychic projections). “Seeing” many forms of suffering that aren’t part of my life personally, still sensing – having to digest what I “see” and feel somehow, even when I don’t take it into myself as deeply anymore knowing now that it’s part of another’s life path.
Having to digest many difficult “images” perhaps not daily anymore, but frequently enough. Finding peace with them, finding peace with the fact that I see them and will probably always see them – having to develop a form of acceptance and peace that allows me to stay settled in sane (and as much as possible joyful) in the presence of all this intensely felt suffering, shifting complexity of this world.
Wondering if this is a healing gift, or just something between me and God – learning to simply live in the presence of this world. Without a skin or filter that separates my psyche (and in a sense body; energy-body) from that of others.
At 33 now, still feeling like having to learn to breathe, to walk, to simply exist. And also having accepted that there is perhaps nothing except my inner nature and the often rough immediacy of the physical world here to guide me; still feeling infinitely better since listening for spirit within it just as my instinct tells me to.